Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 Reading Challenge

I LOVE to read. Our kids love to read. I love to read to our kids. When I've gone a week or so without a novel in hand...I feel like I get a bit cranky. Thankfully we have frequent trips to the library so this hasn't been too much of an issue lately. I usually try to get just one or two books for myself, and the kids and I pick out at least a couple dozen for them. We have a special shelf just for library books and these are the ones they usually pick when we have our regular reading times (before rest/nap time, and before bed). I love to see the kids grab books on their own and sit down on the couch to 'read', and I really love to just sit down with one or both kids at various times throughout the day and read with them (especially during daycare hours; it's a great way to get one-on-one time with my kiddos). I do most of my reading in the morning before I get out of bed (if I wake up early enough), or at night before I go to bed. Then I try to fit in some reading when the kids are resting, after cleaning up from dinner if my hubby is home to play with the kids, or whenever else I can.

On a blog I recently started following, I read about a book challenge that Nicole @ Table For Four had completed. She has inspired me to set my own reading goal for 2012.

I found a blog called "A Novel Challenge" and started searching for different types of challenges, but was soon overwhelmed with all of the ideas. Most were challenges that you could sign up for, and link back to in your own posts, and on and on. If I didn't have so much on my plate, I may have chosen to go that route, but I do, thus I will just make this reading challenge between me, and you, through a blog post I can update. I really did like some of the challenge ideas though, so I will incorporate those into my own challenge. Some of these include: Finishing the Series Reading Challenge; The 2012 "Books I started but didn't finish" Reading Challenge; and The Jodi Picoult Project.

I'm going to create a separate post to list some of the books I plan to read during 2012. Sometimes I am searching the library shelves for a particular author, other times I find something that sounds interesting and go with it (and have discovered many authors new to me that I love!). So, I really don't know what will end up in front of me at times.

My goal for 2012 will be 30 books. I really don't know how many books I read in 2011 (wish I would have been keeping track) so I wasn't quite sure where to set my goal. I figure with 30, as long as I read a book every 2 weeks - with a few extras tossed in, then I should have a good chance at reaching my goal.

Now I just need to finish the book I started in the last week of 2011 (Jodi Picoult's "Nineteen Minutes") so I can get started on my 2012 goal! I have 6 books waiting in my library bag...

Christmas Gifts For The Kiddos In My Life...Outside The Box.

I've turned into the "aunt" that makes Christmas gifts.

Before we had kids we just had one niece (born in 2004) so it was fun to find a fun gift for her birthday, or Christmas, and not have to worry too much about getting her something she already had. Then, in 2007, the "triplets" were born. Ok, so they weren't really triplets (and they weren't all mine). In March my younger brother and his wife had their first baby (a boy!), in May my hubby and I had our first baby (a girl!), and in July my older brother and his wife had their second baby (a girl!). Somehow my mom and I started referring to them as the "triplets" whenever talking about all the currently four year olds.

July 2008 brought us another baby (a boy!), March 2009 a baby for one of my hubby's sisters and her husband (a boy!), June 2009 another baby for my younger brother (a boy!), and July 2011 a third baby for my older brother (a boy!). Did you catch all that? ;-)  Anyways, we are blessed with 6 nieces/nephews, our 2 kiddos, plus 3 Finnish "nieces" (who are actually the daughters of my best friend and her hubby, in Finland).

Alright, now that I've gotten off the subject a bit...back to it...

A few years ago I decided that instead of searching for gifts and hoping that they don't already have "that", I would make gifts. The chances that one of the kids would already have "that" would be next to none. Plus I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I It's something I've always loved to do, but as life has gotten more hectic, I don't get much time for it anymore. Except when it's time to sew Christmas gifts!

Looks like the pink one above, but is actually dark purple...
For the first year of homemade gifts, I made a set of 10 bean bags for each child (with non-toxic poly pellets-I highly recommend them over real beans if you're making bean bags) plus a bag with handles to carry them (although I didn't send these to Finland; they were SO heavy). I used all sorts of fun fruit and vegetable fabrics that I happened to have already, and bought a girly fabric for all the girls bags, and a boyish fabric for all the boys bags. I didn't take pictures (oops) but maybe I can take a picture of our kids sets to post at a later time. I also gave each of the kids a savings bond to stash away for 30 years :-) which I had hoped to continue every year.

Then the following year (and this year as well) we unfortunately had to put the savings bonds on hold since I had left my job and money was, and continues to be, tight. But, I was still able to put my sewing  machine to good use. I made all the kids (including my Finnish "nieces", plus my two daycare kiddos) library book bags, and included a couple books. This time I carefully selected different fabrics for each kiddo. I love all the different types of fabrics available, which sometimes makes it difficult to choose, but I try to keep up on all of the kids favorite colors and interests - so that helps.

This year I made pillowcases for all the kids. I was sooo tempted to use holiday fabrics because there are always SO many cute ones out there (thinking they could be used as their special Christmas pillowcases), but I decided it may be better to select fabrics that could be used year round (although who says you can't use a candy cane or snowman pillowcase in July?!). I also included a book with each one. I love to read, and I love to read to kids. Because of this, I love to include books as part of a gift :-)  The fabrics/photos spread throughout this post are the ones I used for the pillowcases. I made 12, although my Finnish "niece's" and daughter's were from the same fabric design, and one of our nephews and one of my daycare boys was also the same. Oh, and of course our newest nephew isn't old enough to use a pillow so I decided to make him an extra large "tag" blanket which is also a pillowcase for when he gets older!

I already know what I will be making for next year. (Note: I usually haven't even thought about it this far in advance; I decided on pillowcases early fall and made them in November...)  Is it crazy that I decided on next years idea before I was even done making gifts for this year?! I am sooo excited to make next years gifts that I was ready to run out and buy fabric before Christmas...but I didn't. I realized it would be wise to use my JoAnn Fabrics coupons throughout the year, keep an eye out for cutsie fabrics, and work on them gradually. Maybe. If I get the sewing bug (and a great fabric sale) I may jump on it. And the 'accessories' that will go along with it can be purchased here and there, rather than all at once, so I can at least hold off on binge buying those. I want to keep it a surprise in case any of the "parents" of said kids are reading this...although I've already told my mom and'll have to think about it. Maybe once I get the first one all sewn up I'll post a picture of a 'current sewing project'.   ;-)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Discovering the Effects of Coffee...

I have never been much of a coffee drinker. Back in the day I used to enjoy a "vanilla coffee cooler" from Caribou, but I preferred the smell of coffee to the actual taste. On the very rare occasion that I would decide to have a cup, I'd only fill my mug half full and loads of cream and sugar were required to make it taste 'better'. Even then I'd only manage to drink just a few sips, before dumping it out. I should mention that I try to avoid caffeinated beverages because they flow right through me, if you know what I mean, and every hour afterwards (for several hours) it's as if I've taken down a gallon of water. The only two things I drink on a regular basis are water and milk (I've never been a big juice/soda-pop/coffee/tea/etc drinker). Caffeine never had the "pick-me-up" effect that it did for most others. If I had a Barq's Root Beer (or other caffeinated soda-pop) as a special treat at night, it didn't keep me awake-it was bedtime as usual. But, this can change. 

My hubby is another story. He brews coffee nearly every morning. If he doesn't, it usually means he woke up late and didn't have time, so he'll grab a cup when he gets to work. If, for some other reason, he doesn't have coffee in the morning then he'll brew up a pot in the afternoon for a little energy boost (or sometimes he'll do this, even if he DID have his morning coffee).

I don't remember what the case was on Sunday, but shortly before dinner he was grinding coffee beans and brewing up a pot of coffee. It smelled so good that I decided to go ahead and have a cup. With creamer. I skipped adding sugar because the creamer seemed to sweeten it up a bit. I emptied the cup. And not into the sink, into my belly.

Wow! The things I got done that night! I was cleaning the kitchen, taking care of paperwork, sorting receipts in preparation for doing my business taxes, paying bills, etc, etc, etc. I was finally in bed at for a half hour, then went to sleep (luckily Monday was an off day for my every-other-day daycare family!). My normal night after I/we put the kids to bed is to throw some laundry in the wash, read/watch Netflix while I wait to put the laundry in the dryer, maybe read up on some blogs/putz on Facebook, have a snack, occasionally play a game of cards with my hubby, then go to bed. To sum all that up, I'm exhausted and have a lack of motivation.

Monday night (no coffee) I managed to fold one basket of laundry, wrap a couple gifts, and read a few pages of my book before falling asleep.

Tonight (I'm still running off of Tuesday) I did it again. Knowing that I don't have daycare kiddos coming Wednesday morning (ok, I guess it is already technically "Wednesday", but I'll 'speak' as if it's still Tuesday) I decided to have a large cup of coffee. Ok, ok, I'll admit - I may have even asked my hubby to brew up a pot...after asking if he would like a cup of coffee. It didn't taste quite as sweet with the creamer tonight, so I added sugar. And I drank.the.whole.cup.

Oh, the things I got done tonight! I finished wrapping gifts, except the one thing I had left to make, but don't worry - I completed that sewing project from start to finish tonight, and got that wrapped too! I also uploaded pictures from my camera, and finally blogged about a recipe for Vatkattu Suklaa Puuro that I created over a month ago, which I've been meaning to blog about!

Now it's 1:30 in the morning. I'm on my second blog post. I'm hungry so I'm going to eat a bowl of cereal (I hate going to bed with a hungry tummy). Then I'll floss and brush my teeth. Then I'll go to bed.

I'm crazy. NO MORE COFFEE for me for a LONG time. Luckily I am all done making Christmas gifts so I won't need any more late nights to get those done (thank you 'advance planning' for helping to mostly conquer my usual procrastination when making Christmas gifts, and thank you coffee for pushing me to get that last little gift done tonight instead of Friday night!).

Stay tuned for a post about my love of making Christmas gifts for the kiddos in my life, and also PART 2 of "A Life Worth Living" (Click here to read A Life Worth Living - PART 1: A Reflection).

Vatkattu Suklaa Puuro (Whipped Chocolate Porridge)

Our local ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) program runs a series of classes called "Super Saturdays" where one Saturday morning per month you and your kiddos can come and learn about a specific topic. We attended the November (Dinosaurs) and December (Bears) classes. It runs for an hour and a half, starting with free play time (it runs in one of the preschool rooms at our local primary school), circle time, story time, art/craft projects related to the topic (painting/coloring/paper crafts/playdoh/floam/sand table/etc), then we meet again for circle time songs, stories, and the goodbye song. The kids love it and it gives us all a chance to play in a 'new' environment, meet new friends, and mostly just have fun!

When we left the November class, it was chilly outside and there were snowflakes in the air. (The date was November 19th, and we got our first few inches of snow for the season that afternoon/evening. It didn't last long before it melted, and our ground is still bare...just a few days before Christmas!) It was lunch time and the kids wanted Cream of Wheat. Sounded great for a chilly day! While in Finland last year I learned how to make Vatkattu Puolukka Puuro (Whipped Lingonberry Porridge). It is basically farina (Cream of Wheat) cooked in water that has been boiled with lingonberries (the berry skins can be left in, or strained out-I usually strain them out for a smoother texture). Sugar is added, it is cooled, and then it is whipped. Lingonberries aren't readily available for me, so I use cranberries instead (vatkattu karpalo puuro-whipped cranberry porridge), or blueberries (vatkattu mustikka puuro-whipped blueberry porridge). Our family loves either version. Sometimes we'll add vanilla yogurt to the top...yummm.... I tried making this with strawberries once, and it just didn't give it a bold enough flavor. Next summer I want to try making it with raspberries from our garden. Next time I make a berry version, I will get that recipe up for you.

Anyways...back to our cold November day. Rather than make plain or berry porridge...I decided to experiment with cocoa. We L.O.V.E. chocolate. I worked a little magic and Vatkattu Suklaa Puuro (whipped chocolate porridge) was 'invented'. Although we fell in love with it, I wouldn't serve it for lunch again (or breakfast...or dinner...). It was dessert. I'm sad that my hubby didn't get to try it (he works on Saturdays) but my daughter was just asking for 'chocolate purro' the other day, so it will appear on our table in the near future.

Are you ready for the recipe? It makes about 2-3 servings (was the perfect amount for two kids and myself) but can easily be doubled.

Vatkattu Suklaa Puuro / Whipped Chocolate Porridge

2 Cups Water or Milk (or a combination of both)
1/3 Cup Cream of Wheat/Farina
1/3 Cup Baking Cocoa
1/3 Cup Sugar
6-8 Large Marshmallows or 1 heaping Cup of Mini Marshmallows

Bring water or milk to a boil. Over medium heat, whisk in the Cream of Wheat/Farina. Simmer 2-3 minutes, until thickened (stirring frequently). Reduce heat to low. Stir in cocoa and sugar. Add marshmallows, stir, then let sit for a couple minutes so the marshmallows can melt. Remove from heat. With a hand mixer, beat for 3-5 minutes (use the whisk beaters if you have them). Serve with a nice cold glass of milk. Enjoy!


To double the recipe after trying it using the measurements above and loving it so much that 2-3 servings just isn't enough for the next time use these measurements:

4 Cups Water or Milk (or a combination of both)
2/3 Cup Cream of Wheat/Farina
2/3 Cup Baking Cocoa
2/3 Cup Sugar
12-16 Large Marshmallows or 2 heaping Cups of Mini Marshmallows

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Life Worth Living - PART 1: A Reflection

Click here to read: A Life Worth Living - Part 2: A Decision Is Made
Click here to read: A Life Worth Living - Part 3: Where I Am Now

Sometimes you make a big life changing decision thinking that the outcome will be exactly what you wanted. Then you realize down the road, that it really isn't what you wanted. This is where I am at. This doesn't mean that I wish I could "take it all back", because I certainly do not wish to return to the "life" that I had before making the big decision. And, honestly I am for the most part happy where I am right now because I feel that everything happens for a reason, and this MUST be a stepping stone to where my path will eventually continue on to.
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A year and a half ago I resigned from my full-time I.T. job at a technical college, leaving behind many friends, tons of memories, great benefits (health/dental insurance, retirement, etc), and exactly 11 1/2 years of my life (12/1/98-6/1/10). I had outgrown my job in the department a few years prior, although I still enjoyed supporting the staff and students everyday. I felt in my heart that it was time to go, but the health/dental insurance kept me around for a couple more years (I had a husband and two young children to think of).

Here is my story...

Two young children. While I knew they were well cared for at my mom's daycare, I felt like I was missing out on so much. My daily routine went kind of like this: up at 4:30/4:45 to get ready, throw a quick lunch together (if I didn't the night before), grab something for breakfast that I would eat at my desk throughout the morning as time/students allowed (if at all), get the kids up and changed, try to be out the door by 5:30/5:45 to drive 45 minutes to drop the kids off with my mom, then another 20 minutes to get to work. I had been starting work around 6:30/6:45 so I could be out around 3, but near the 'end' I was rushing in at 7am when I needed to be opening the student lab. The 4:30/4:45 wake-up time was just getting difficult. So, I'd leave work around 3/3:30 then head to my parent's to get the kids. But, usually I'd sit down and end up hanging out for a while because I was so exhausted the kids were playing so nice. Then we'd eventually head home, which was another 45 minutes of driving, sometimes an hour if traffic was bad before I entered the country (no traffic!). So home around 5:30 or so, then it was: make dinner/give kids baths/pajamas/brush teeth/read books/kids in bed by 7:30 or 8/mom in bed by 9, if that. Going to bed anytime after 9 was going to bed late, for me!

This was pretty much Monday-Friday, although my hubby (who works Wednesday through Saturday) had been taking some classes and there were some semesters that he would keep the kids home on Monday or Tuesday if he didn't have classes those days, but for a while before the 'end' I think I was bringing them M-F. Then I was with the kiddos all day on Saturdays while the hubby worked (usually gone 6am-6/7pm). Oh, and I think I forgot to say that Wednesday is his 'late' day at work; 10am-8pm, but sometimes not home 'til 10. I understand that he has no control over his work hours (and would love for them to be different), but man, were his work hours tough on everyone!

I was thankful to spend time with the kids on Saturdays, but honestly I was so burnt out from the week that it was hard to find the energy to actually take them somewhere to do something fun. I felt horrible. I'd barely get to spend any time with them during the week (especially when my daughter wouldn't fall asleep for naptime at daycare and then instead fall asleep on the way home and sleep through the night-for a while she was doing this 2-4 nights per week!) and then I was so exhausted on the weekends that I didn't feel like doing much of anything except play at home, and maybe try to get some laundry/dishes/cleaning done.

Was this really my life? Why did I allow it to be that way? How would I ever get to really know my children? Did I mention that I am married? How can your marriage be healthy if it is rare that you actually get to spend any time together? Was having fantastic health/dental insurance really worth not being able to spend time with my family? I'm pretty sure I was dealing with depression.

I hit rock bottom and knew I had to make a change. There had to be more to life than living it the way I was "living" it...

Click here to read: A Life Worth Living - Part 2: A Decision Is Made
Click here to read: A Life Worth Living - Part 3: Where I Am Now